Google AMP Drives Debate About Open Web

by James Chesters on Feb 17, 2016 |

The launch of Google's AMP project looms this month, and not everyone is excited.

The project's site describes Accelerated Mobile Pages as "an initiative to improve the mobile web and enhance the distribution ecosystem" by providing "web pages that are optimised to load instantly on users’ mobile devices" and "designed to support smart caching, predictable performance, and modern, beautiful mobile content."

In a News Lab Open Office Hour, Richard Gingras, senior director for news and social products at Google, described web performance on mobile devices as "problematic," saying that "sub-optimal ad behaviour" was having an impact on engagement, and contributing to the rise of ad blockers around the world.

Ad blockers directly affect the revenue of publishers, and leave the web vulnerable to "proprietary platforms" such as Apple News or Facebook's instant articles, Gingras said, stressing that AMP was about "making the web healthy, vibrant, and fast."

Google boasts load times "as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web," using AMP.

Already favouring mobile sites in mobile search results, Google uses rendering speed as a key indicator for page ranking. Speaking to Advertising Age's George Slefo, Gringas said "AMP doesn't mean adopt AMP and get a massive boost in search ranking... But without question speed matters." If two pages were identical except for their speed, then the faster would be shown first.

Opinion is divided in the community whether Google is protecting or threatening the open Web. In the article How Google’s AMP project speeds up the Web—by sandblasting HTML Scott Gilbertson suggests "While AMP has problems and just might be designed to lock publishers into a Google-controlled format, so far it does seem friendlier to the open Web than Facebook Instant Articles."

Not everyone is as generous. In the article The Mobile Web Is Making A Comeback author Dan Rowinski argues that "the problem with AMP is that it...creates a two-tiered system separating the Web from the mobile Web," making an open Web less egalitarian.

"A large spectrum now exists for sites that want (and will soon need) to be on the cutting edge of publishing," Rowinski says, "Only a few publishers have access to all of these capabilities and the clout to be included in the initial roll out of these properties."

Speaking directly to InfoQ, Aram Zucker-Scharff, lead developer for PressForward, shared concerns.

"If Google sees itself as a custodian of the open web then, up to this point, it has proven to be a rather poor one,"  said Zucker-Scharff.

He continues:

There are a lot of people who support AMP out there in the larger media and developer community. It's an attempt to solve an important problem, that the web is getting slower, bloated and bogged down by heavy sites. AMP addresses pieces of this, but it isn't a solution.

More importantly than that, though Google throws the words "the open web" around a lot, it isn't that, either. The issue is that the biggest cause of bloated websites, long loading times and bad user experiences is the ad network Google has set up, that they run and control the rules for.

Google's AMP project is open source and encourages contribution. InfoQ readers eager to get involved should visit the project's GitHub page.

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